Protecting Privacy in Digital Records: An Exploration of the Potential of Privacy Enhancing Technologies


Victoria Lemieux, John Werner

Date of Publication


With increased concerns about data protection and privacy over the past several years, and concomitant introduction of regulations restricting access to personally information (PI), archivists in many jurisdictions now must undertake ‘sensitivity reviews’ of archival documents to determine if they can make those documents accessible to researchers. Such reviews are onerous, given increasing volume of records, and complex, due to how difficult it can be for archivists to identify whether records contain personal information (PI) under the provisions of various laws. Despite research into the application of tools and techniques to automate sensitivity reviews, effective solutions remain elusive. Not yet explored as a solution to the challenge of enabling access to archival holdings subject to privacy restrictions is the application of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) - a class of emerging technologies that rest on the assumption that a body of documents is confidential or private and must remain so. While seemingly being counter-intuitive to apply PETs to making archives more accessible, we argue that PETs could provide an opportunity to protect PI in archival holdings whilst still enabling research on those holdings. In this paper, to lay a foundation for archival experimentation with use of PETs, we contribute an overview of these technologies based on a scoping review and discuss possible use cases and future research directions.

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First Nations land acknowledegement

We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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